Matching Personal Values to Organizational Values – What The Theory Says
This post first appeared on LinkedIn.
Intuitively, we know when we are experiencing a ‘good fit’ or a ‘bad fit’ with the organization in which we work.
A good fit feels like the organization gets you, values the same things as you do and shares some of the same goals that you feel are important.
A bad fit feels like you are always having to compromise what you believe in to achieve progress and success in the organization. It feels like you are always fighting ‘the process’ and ‘the structure’ of the organization.
This concept of ‘fit’ goes beyond intuition and is backed by a substantial amount of research.
Some common terms used when talking about ‘fit’ are as follows:
- Person-Environment (P-E) Fit – A broad term to capture the congruence between a person and their working environment.
- Person-Organization (P-O) Fit – Compatibility between individuals and organizations.
- Person-Vocation (P-V) Fit – Compatibility between individuals and their vocation / profession.
- Person-Group (P-G) fit – Compatibility between individuals and their work groups / teams.
- Person-Job (P-J) Fit – Compatibility of individuals with specific jobs.
Perhaps the most widely used and well known concept of fit is that of Person-Vocation fit. It’s obvious appeal can be linked to the old age question of ‘what career should I pursue?’ This concept became incredibly popular following the work of John Holland who suggested that people and organizations have ‘personalities’ which he characterized with his RIASEC types (realistic, investigative, artistic, social, enterprising and conventional). The closer the individual personality matches to the vocational environment the better off the individual will be in that vocation. Modern career assessment tests are largely based on the work of John Holland.
If we sharpen the focus from vocations to organizations, the P-O fit concept can provide a similar picture for the fit between an individual and an organization. One of the more common applications of the P-O fit concept is to assess the similarity between an individuals and organizations values.
This concept of values can be incredibly important when it comes to assessing your fit to your organization. At the core is the question of beliefs. Does the organization believe in the things that you hold dearest? Values are contributors to an organizations culture and therefore to the behaviour exhibited throughout the organization. Is this behaviour compatible with your values and behaviours?
Measuring Person-Organization Fit
The first challenge when trying to ascertain the similarity between an individuals and organizations values is to determine what is to be measured.
Best practice tries to find a common ‘content dimension’ that can be used as the basis of measurement.
If we take the stated values of the Boston Consulting Group as an example, we can see they hold the following values as important (whether they live by these values is a separate question).
- Respect for the Individual
- Clients Come First
- The Strategic Perspective
- Value Delivered
- Expanding the Art of the Possible
- Social Impact
An effort can be made to map these value statements to a universally accepted values scale (Schwartz – see diagram below).
- Integrity (BENEVOLNECE – Honest / Responsible)
- Respect for the Individual (UNIVERSALISM – Broadminded)
- Diversity (UNIVERSALISM – Equality)
- Clients Come First (BENEVOLNECE – Helpful)
- The Strategic Perspective (ACHEIVEMENT – Intelligent / Capable)
- Value Delivered (ACHEIVEMENT – Ambitious)
- Partnership (BENEVOLNECE – True Friendship)
- Expanding the Art of the Possible (ACHEIVEMENT – Influential) + (SELF-DIRECTION – Creativity)
- Social Impact (UNIVERSALISM – Protecting the Environment)
With the characteristics set for investigation, there are a number of options available to measure the ‘fit’ between the organization and individual.
Direct measurement asks the individuals directly whether they believe a good fit exists. This ‘perceived fit’ has shown a strong relationship to a variety of positive effects such as greater feelings of personal success and higher levels of commitment.
Indirect measurement avoids asking the individuals for their perception of fit and instead involves an explicit comparison between separately rated individual and organizational values. This is sometimes referred to as ‘actual’ fit.
How do you feel you stack up against the values that the Boston Consulting Group deems as important?
Long Term Outcomes
Several studies have shown that values congruence can have positive effects on the following individual outcomes:
Work Attitudes – Strong values alignment has shown relationships to job satisfaction, organizational commitment, motivation, feelings of team cohesion, feelings of personal success and greater concern for stakeholders.
Intention to quit and Turnover – Studies have shown that individuals with lower values alignment to their organization are more likely to report an intention to leave. Studies have also shown that these intentions to leave are often realized (turnover).
Prosocial Behaviours – Values alignment has also been linked to self reported positive organizational citizenship behaviours such as teamwork and helping with orientations.
Although there is strong positive evidence for individuals to find a good ‘values match’ when it comes to their choice or employer, what about the impacts to organizations?
Do employers benefit from having a large portion of their employees with a strong P-O fit?
Is there a dark side of good fit?
Certain studies have looked into the impacts that having too many people of ‘the right type’ might have. An inability to adapt to changing circumstances and a lack of innovation has been suggested as two possible consequences.
Values can be a powerful concept to help individuals in their career decisions and understanding why they may feel a certain way about their current employer. There is enough evidence to show that the individuals experience is likely to be more positive if they can find a good values match with their employer.
Organizations that want to be at the forefront of innovation and change will need to accept that a wider dimension and mix of values may be the recipe for success.
Amy L. Kristoff, “Person-Organization Fit: An Integrative Review of its Conceptualizations, Measurement, and Implications“, Personnel Psychology 1996, 49
Schwartz, S.H. (1992), “Universals in the content and structure of values: theoretical advances and empirical tests in 20 countries”. In M.P. Zanna, ed. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, Vol 25, pp. 1-65, (Orlando: Academic Press)
Schwartz, S.H. (1994), “Are there universal aspects in the structure and contents of human values?”, Journal of Social Issues, 50 (4), 19–45.